At What Age Does 'Middle Age' Begin?

We live in a youth-obsessed culture, fueled in part by Baby Boomers who refuse to grow old gracefully, insisting 50 is the new 30.

Well, if that's the case, when does that murky milestone of middle age begin? Pick a number. It's almost anyone's guess. (Although one answer, which you may not like, is revealed below!)

Florida State University sociology professor Anne Barrett examined how people view the start and end of middle age. "There are so few clear markers of its boundaries, unlike adulthood or old age," she says.

Her team pored through two waves of nationally representative data collected in the United States in 1995 and 1996 and 2004 to 2006 that examined how various factors influence people's views of the timing of middle age.

The key findings:

  • Both women and men view the start and end of middle age as occurring earlier for women than for men, consistent with the argument that a "double standard of aging" exists that disadvantages women.

  • Younger adults tend to see middle age as occurring at younger ages than do older adults. In other words, as people grow older, they tend to see this life stage as occurring later.

  • People who are more socioeconomically disadvantaged or belong to racial or ethnic minority groups tend to view this stage as occurring earlier than do their peers.

  • Others likely to view middle age as occurring earlier include those in poor health, those who started their families young, those who are divorced and those without living parents.

It turns out that we're in what Barrett describes as "the curious position of wanting to live a long life but knowing it requires moving into the most devalued stage of life--late old age."

So just when does middle age begin and end? Although there's no hard data that clearly define the bookends of mid-life, it seems we have a pretty good idea about when it's time to view our youth from the rearview mirror. Most people think middle age begins at 44 and ends at 60.

At 60? Heck, that's not old at all! Is it OK to think of 60 as the new 40?

The study findings were published in the journal Advances in Life Course Research.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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